By George Capsis
I get almost as many robo calls as I get real calls, so when a voice came on to say that I was about to listen to a real live phone conference with Bill de Blasio, my natural New York cynicism said “fake”—but this caller was different. He was hesitant and impromptu. (He wasn’t reading from a script.)
And then de Blasio came on to ask us listeners to tell our city council representatives that we should back his change in zoning regulations so he could build more affordable housing.
He explained among other things, and not as clearly as this, that years ago, to get the parked cars off the street, the city passed a law that when you built an apartment house, you had to build parking spaces as well. Most city developers put them underground and right here on 10th Street, I hesitate, and look down the ramp to see if a car is about to emerge from the 350 Bleecker Street garage. (I always thought this was good regulation. I am depressed by the permanent wall of parked cars that rings virtually every street of the city.)
But remember, Bill de Blasio is the Tale of Two Cities mayor. He wants to keep rent regulated apartment rents low (no raise this last time) and he wants to fix up decrepit apartments in public housing, and most importantly he wants to build new ones so he can make 200,000 new “affordable” apartments available during his tenure—but how to do it?
Well no more money from the Federal government. The last public housing project they paid for was Fulton Houses starting on 16th Street and 9th Avenue and running up to 19th Street, and given the ego feud with Cuomo, it will not come from Albany. (I predict Cuomo will do his own thing so he can point to it when he runs for president.)
No, the only source of money to build affordable apartments has to come from developers, but how do you get them to build affordable apartments when Mr. Rudin got $19 million for one in the St. Vincent’s condo complex.
The natural lubricant is of course greed. Years ago to stimulate lagging construction, the city offered years and years of no real estate tax to get developers to build and asked like 20% be affordable apartments, and the developers made out like bandits and the money lost could have paid for a lot more apartments The developers cheated and upped the rents on affordable apartments because two different city agencies were involved. The finance department cooked up the deal and then left it to another agency to regulate with only a vague idea of what the original deal was.
But let’s get back to greed. For 80 years ever since LaGuardia and Roosevelt built the Eleanor Roosevelt houses on the lower East, this city has been building public housing for poor people and for people who don’t make a dime. Every penny they get comes from the city, state and federal government in a variety of programs, which have become the catechism of the poor.
Every society has the permanently poor. They can be mentally ill, mentally disable, physically handicapped, drug addicts or in some other way not able to earn even a minimum wage. For them, the city, state and federal government has to provide. It is just that New York seems to have more than its share.
NYCHA housing is designed to do just that, provide housing for those who can barely afford to pay for an apartment or cannot at all pay for one. I suspect that becomes a way of life for second and even third generations of NYCHA families (NYCHA glibly uses the word “family” but more like 65% of the “families” are headed by a single women).